David and Mercedes Rizzo explain how their adult daughter has become an ambassador for autism awareness for many of the shoppers who meet her.
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day. Autism is a term we have become all too familiar with. Our third child, our daughter Danielle, was diagnosed with autism in preschool twenty years ago. Wow!
One of the places Danielle loves to go is the grocery store. Taking your special needs child (or adult) into the community can be a scary thing, but it is necessary for their development and your family’s well-being. Being able to function appropriately in the community is a good skill for everyone to master.
Not too long ago taking our daughter to the grocery store was a huge challenge. She would dart over to the salad bar and try to help herself to items there, even very hot entrees with steam coming from them. She would try to eat the crushed ice surrounding fresh fish. You never knew what she would do. We recall a time when she grabbed a bag of small candies and ripped it open. We stood there mortified as candy flew all over the floor. We hurried to clean up the mess so no one would fall. After this, it was a while before we dared to take her back to that grocery store.
As she grew older, she learned more about what was appropriate behavior and what was not. In fact, she began to enjoy shopping, and she has become something of an ambassador for the promotion of autism awareness for many of the shoppers who meet her. One time we were in the grocery store and a woman came up behind us in a motorized shopping cart with a basket full of groceries. “Excuse me, but I need your teenager to help me unload my groceries onto the conveyor belt.”
We did a double take because we were not used to a request like this being made to Danielle. After a brief pause we said, “Of course she can help, and we will too.” Danielle was delighted to help and had a big smile on her face as she listened to our prompts and successfully unloaded the woman’s shopping cart. As this was happening, we got into a discussion about autism and the woman learned more about people with autism as a result.
Another time, we were in the grocery store and an elderly woman asked Danielle to reach up and get baking soda off the top shelf for her. Our first thought was to simply reach up and get the item for her ourselves. However, we paused briefly and said, “Danielle, reach up and get the baking soda.” Danielle took the baking soda and gave it to the woman happily. The woman asked about Danielle and was very taken with how well she was able to follow directions and communicate using her electronic speech device. Another opportunity for Danielle to spread autism awareness!
Encounters like this have become quite frequent and make us reflect on how far she has come and how much of an inspiration she is to many in the community. There have been other times when Danielle happily strolls through the store, using her iPad to name items on the shelves and in our cart. One time, at the deli counter Danielle was pressing “cheese” repeatedly on her iPad. The young man helping us asked why she was using an iPad to talk. When we told him that is how she communicates due to having autism, he said, “I understand because I have Aspergers—well, technically.” He asked a lot of questions, and some of them Danielle could answer. During their “conversation” others at the deli counter were paying attention and smiling.
Danielle will always require a high level of supervision, but she has come so far. Our hearts are no longer thumping so much when we go shopping. We know that our Danielle, by being exactly who she is, has become a worthy ambassador for autism awareness, as have so many other people with autism out there. It would be a lot quicker to shop alone without Danielle, but she benefits being out in the community interacting with others as best she can, and others benefit from interacting with her as they become more aware of autism.
April 2nd is World Autism Awareness Day, and people with autism are out there with their gifts setting the world on fire!
Copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo
Images: copyright 2023 David and Mercedes Rizzo, all rights reserved.
About the Author
David and Mercedes write and speak from a faith perspective as parents of a child with autism. They are available to speak, and have appeared on radio and other media. Visit DavidAndMercedesRizzo.com to learn more. Follow them on Facebook at Autism With The Rizzos. Authors of Praying For Your Special Needs Child, (Word Among Us Press) and Spiritually Able and The Adaptive First Eucharist Preparation Kit (Loyola Press).